Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wines for the People is Dead! Long Live Wines for the People!

We have enjoyed ourselves immensely, but it is time to end the Wines for the People blog as we know it. We set out to share our love of wine with our readers, as well as some of our knowledge to help you enjoy wine more, and have fewer disappointing glasses, without having to spend a lot of money. We hope we have succeeded.

When this blog returns--and it will--its new focus will be the wines we are producing as The People's Wine Revolution. PWR Wines is all about delivering top-quality wine at reasonable prices. No surprise there. We do hope you will return to see the new incarnation.

In the meantime, the older posts will remain, and we do hope you'll explore and catch up on any that you may have missed. All the posts are indexed by category here. With New Year's Eve fast approaching you may want to review the video lesson on opening sparkling wines with a sword (or butter knife), found here.

We remain at your service to answer any wine-related (or not) questions you have. Please comment on the site or contact us directly via email: pwr [at] att [dot] net

The People's Wine Revolution

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ritual Pinot Noir

The 2008 Ritual Pinot Noir from Chile's Casablanca Valley is delicious and represents a great value at $18 (or less).

We have been greatly impressed by the outstanding wines coming out of Chile of late. The success of the Chono Riesling (discussed here), for example, shows that Chile can excel with cool-climate varieties. This wine, our first Chilean Pinot, is confirmation. The wine is definitely new world in style, but it is distinct from any Pinot Noir from California or Oregon. It is medium-bodied, with an elegant tannic structure. The fruit is pretty, with notes of Bing cherries, but what stands out is the attractive peppery, spicy note on the finish.

The wine is produced by Veramonte, who were also involved with the excellent Argentine Cruz Andina Malbec we discussed earlier. Veramonte is a solid Chilean producer and we have long enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc in particular.

We loved the Ritual Pinot Noir and will be back for more. We shall also continue to seek out Chilean Pinot Noir.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wine Guerilla Zinfandels

Here at Wines for the People we view wine and the wine industry with the eyes of revolutionaries. Imagine our delight to discover the Wine Guerrilla and the wonderful Zinfandels produced under that label.

What motivates the Wine Guerrilla?

 "Wine Guerrilla is a hero to those who seek wines of unabashed uniqueness and character. Wherever proud zinfandel grapes are oppressed and the taste buds of consumers are in peril, Wine Guerrilla is there."

We could not have said it better ourselves.

At our request, Wine Guerrilla provided two of their 2007 Zins, and a yet-to-be-released 2008 Zinfandel. We loved them all.

We never seem to get enough Zinfandel, let alone the good stuff from Dry Creek. When we do get it, it disappears quickly. Why? Because it is so delicious. Zinfandel is an amazing grape that can appear in any number of styles while still retaining its "Zin-ness". Zin can be restrained, believe it or not, and it can be overblown, super- to overripe, and even sweet. Zinfandel can also reflect its origins as well as any other variety, including Pinot noir. We find it does so best when it is somewhat less than overripe.

The 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $22, was everything we look for in Dry Creek Zin. It is delicious and well balanced, and it tastes like it comes from Dry Creek, with wonderful red berry flavors and sufficient acidity to match the alcohol and tannin. If you are not familiar with Zinfandel from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, this wine is a great introduction.

We also enjoyed the 2007 Goat Trek Vineyard Block 6 Zinfandel, $25, which is also from Dry Creek Valley, though not the valley floor. As the back label explains:
"It would take you a 45 minute drive up a dirt road to a 1250-foot elevation to reach the grapes of Goat Trek Vineyard. So we decided to bring them to you instead. You can thank us after your first glass"

This wine is incredible. The same flavor profile as the Dry Creek Valley Zin described above, but turned up a notch. Brilliant, zingy raspberry fruit that tasted almost candied (though not sweet). And still perfectly balanced. Some of this wine survived to day 2, when we found it deliciously savoury and sapid. It made us want to close our eyes and meditate on deliciousness.

The third wine may have been our favorite. This was a 2008 Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley. Wine Guerrilla will release it in January in a lineup of eight 2008 Zins at ZAP, an annual Zinfandel showcase/tasting event in San Francisco.

The Russian River Valley abuts Dry Creek Valley, but it is generally cooler than its neighbor. There is plenty of Zinfandel planted in the RRV, but it is perhaps better known as Pinot Noir country. We typically find that Zinfandels from Dry Creek are more to our liking than those from Russian River, but this wine confounded our expectations. As a 2008 wine, it is still very young, but it did not take long for it to loosen up and begin revealing its layers of flavors. It continued to grow more beautiful with each glass. With a little more time in the bottle and perhaps a good decanting, this wine will sing.

The wine does represent its origins. We find that Russian River Valley Pinots often have a cola/sassafrass character. In Pinot we find that somewhat off-putting, but this Zinfandel has it as well, and it works.

We look forward to returning to these wines and to further exploration of the Wine Guerrilla's creations.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two More Treats from Bonny Doon

When you see a great painting or play, or read a great book, the images and ideas can swirl around in your head for weeks. How much you talk about a movie after seeing it is a good gauge of how good the movie was.

About a week ago we finished reading Been Doon So Long, a new book ($35) by Bonny Doon's founder and President-for-Life Randall Grahm. Later we enjoyed the Bonny Doon 2005 Le Cigare Volant ($30). Both book and wine have been very much in mind ever since.

Autumn tableau of Tri-Pour beaker used as decanter and sadly empty bottle of Le Cigare Volant

The wine was amazing. We heeded Mr. Grahm's strongly emphasized advice to decant the wine, and we reiterate that advice to you if you try this wine. In fact we recommend either a double or triple decanting (i.e., bottle to decanter, decanter back to bottle, bottle back to decanter), or letting the wine sit for at least an hour after decanting before taking a sip. As a friendly reminder, your decanter need be nothing fancy--an empty wine bottle will do if you have one on hand. We used a plastic tri-pour beaker, which cost about $1.

A fancy decanter, for contrast. Image by Geoff Parsons used under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Here's why you should decant and wait. Our first sips revealed the wine to be pleasant, with silky tannins--a simple if tasty wine. About an hour after decanting, however, the wine was something else entirely. The wine was still "quiet," in the sense of not being overly extracted or tasting like a fruit compote, but it was also intense and lively on the palate, with multitudinous delicate flavors dancing on the palate. This is the sort of complexity we love in wine, really what wine is all about. Alas, by the time we reached this stage, most of the bottle was gone. Decant and wait, and you can start at the exciting part.

As you will see below, Grahm is redefining the mission of Bonny Doon. In an Apologia accompanying the wine, Grahm writes, "[Le Cigare Volant] has become the truest lens of my current winemaking ideas, aspirations and obsessions, a reflection, of where I am going as a winemaker and where the company itself is headed." In that light, this wine promises a very bright future for Bonny Doon Vineyard.

At $30 the 2005 Le Cigare Volant is at the high end of wines we recommend on this site, but this wine is worthy of a splurge, and would make a great present for any wine lover you know. Just remember to decant!

Been Doon So Long would also make a great gift for anyone who enjoys wine and has at least some appreciation of word play. Puns and such are not our favorite amusements, but Grahm is extremely gifted with his word play and never once did we groan. His writing is also full of allusions and references, some to the wine industry and its players but most to literary works.

The book is called a "Vinthology," so we assumed that it would be a collection of pieces from the always amusing Bonny Doon newsletter. It is that, but it is also much more. How many collections of newsletter pieces can be said to have a narrative arc? This book, despite being divided into sections by type of writing (in "Ficciones," for example, we find "Don Quijones, the Man for Garnacha or A Confederacy of Doonces," while "Poesy Galore" features "The Love Song of J. Alfred Rootstock" and "Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno"), decidedly has a narrative arc.

The plot begins with Grahm at the helm of a large wine corporation that seems to have little in common with his original and still held winemaking ideals. He lampoons the wine industry, which can always use a good poke (if not kick) in the ribs, but he also probes his conscience. Throughout the book and especially toward the end, Grahm grows ever more philosophical as he tries both to understand and to explain his enological yearnings. A couple of these entries are appropriately called "meditations." These resonated with us, who also consider ourselves to be philosophical winemakers, and we will return to them whenever we begin to doubt or need inspiration.

As the book ends--and this is really no spoiler--Grahm has dramatically altered the course of Bonny Doon in the hope of returning to his original vision. The wines Grahm sent with the book, the Cigare Volante (supra) and the Albariño reviewed earlier, show us that Grahm is very much on track. Mr. Grahm may protest that he still has far to go to produce the wines he has always wanted to produce. We will eagerly watch and taste his progress.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Falling Star Boxed Wines

Image from Stardusts and Sequins used under the Creative Commons license.
In our on-going quest to discover good wine in a box (see here, here and here), we were excited to hear about Falling Star boxed wines from Argentina. As we remember the press release, the producers claimed that Falling Star would rapidly become the biggest-selling wine in a box because the quality of the wine was so high.

In time samples came our way, and.... well, we can say that we finished the 2009 Cuyo Chardonnay ($20/3L). We found nothing remarkable about the wine, but it did not take up much space in the fridge, and it was often handy to have a drinkable white at the ready with no deliberation about what bottle to open, let alone chill. So high marks for convenience, at least.

We were disappointed by the 2008 Cuyo Malbec ($20/3L). Malbec is Argentina's signature grape, so we expected much more from this wine, and the box remains nearly untouched.

Our hopes remain for the 3L bag-in-box category. As soon as someone actually does package a high-quality wine this way, the market will be theirs. But so far the promises to do so have gone unfulfilled.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards specializes in Italian varieties in Lake County, California. Their unusual lineup of wines and their reasonable prices made us curious to try the wines. The winery was kind enough to send us some, and we were quite pleased.

A Lake County Vineyard in the Spring. Courtesy of an anonymous Wikipedia contributor who has donated the image to the public domain.
The Muscat Canelli (dry!), $16, is as dry as advertised. This is an unusual sort of wine to find from California. Most California Muscats that are not overtly styled as dessert wines are at least off-dry. That is a real shame as the grape can really shine when made into a dry wine. The aromatics entice--and lead the taster to expect a sweet, floral and fruity wine--and the dryness on the palate is a refreshing surprise. Our archetype for this style is Alsatian Muscats, which are usually made from a different though related grape, Muscat Ottonel. Mendocino County's Navarro Vineyards produces a dry Muscat that is a dead ringer for the Alsatian style.

The Rosa D'Oro dry Muscat is something else again. The aromatics are relatively tame for a Muscat, but the wine is explosively delicious on the palate, with an almost honey-like texture. We enjoyed this before, during and after a dinner of Ma Po Tofu, a spicy dish typically served with beer. The wine worked as aperitif, accompaniment and digestif, and maintained its delicious character throughout.

We also enjoyed the Rosa D'Oro Dolcetto, $18. This is another variety not widely grown in the US. This wine is a true Dolcetto but we found it more approachable than many Italian versions, which can be hard--overly tannic and acidic. But the wine was not overripe, which would make it too fat or soft. The tannins are just right, giving the wine a grippy mouthfeel, and are sufficient to see the wine through several years' aging. The wine tastes almost sweet at first, with notes of blueberry and blackberry, and the finish is quite pleasant.

We are eager to try the winery's other offerings, especially the Aglianico and the Refosco. These varieties are even less widely grown in the US than Dolcetto, and we look forward to seeing what Rosa D'Oro can do with them.

Lake County itself is something of an enigma viticulturally. These wines demonstrate its great potential, and we may just have to take an investigative field trip to learn more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Man that Waters the Workers' Beer

Here's another song from Rise Up Singing that we thought you would enjoy. Sure, it's about beer, not wine, but if you replace "strychnine" with microoxygenation, or oak chips, or Mega Purple (all legal additives in winemaking), could the song be about cynically made, overly manipulated wines and their producers? Perhaps that's too much of a stretch. A better analogy may be the illegal and sometimes dangerous additions made to wines, such as diethylene glycol in some Austrian wines.

Many thanks to the Workers Music Association, UK, for permission to reprint these lyrics.

The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer
I'm the man, the very fat man who waters the workers' beer (2x)
And what do I care if it makes them ill,
or if it makes them terribly queer?
I've a car and a yacht and an aeroplane and I waters the workers' beer

Now when I makes the workers' beer I put in strych-i-nine
Some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin
But since a brew so terribly strong
might make them terribly queer
I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the workers' beer...

Now a drop of beer is good for a man who's thirsty and tired and hot
And I sometimes has a drop for myself from a very special lot
But a fat and healthy working class is the thing that I most fear
So I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the ...

Now ladies fair beyond compare and be ye maid or wife
O sometimes lend a thought for one who leads a sorry life
The water rates are shockingly high and malt is shockingly dear
And there isn't the profit there used to be in wat'ring...

--Paddy Ryan
©Workers Music Assoc, UK

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz

We have a great recommendation if you are looking for something different to bring out at Thanksgiving: sparkling Shiraz. Who doesn't like sparkling wine? But when it's red, not white or pink, it's a completely different experience.

We have always been drawn to sparkling Shiraz wines, though in the past they have never quite met our expectations. However, the Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz, $18, is a winner. The tricky part with bubbly red wine is balancing the tannins with the carbonation and the acid. The three together can be very hard on the palate because the carbonation enhances the astringency and bitterness of the wine phenolics. Other sparkling Shiraz we have tried have had an overly bitter finish. The Wyndham Estate, in contrast, is very nicely balanced, with typical Shiraz fruitiness and some orange rind flavors (but not too bitter). The bubbles themselves might be ever so slightly out of whack--the wine goes into the glass with froth more than effervescence, and the sparkle faded more quickly than we would have liked, but this is a minor complaint.

We enjoyed the wine with an Indian-inspired dinner of spicy chickpeas, sauteed broccoli, and coconut rice. The wine worked beautifully with this meal, which would have proved challenging to most wine pairings. This is a great wine for holiday gatherings, and its weight, balance, and flavors allow it to work as an aperitif, with hors d'ouevres, with a meal, or even with dessert.

Please note that we very happily received this wine as a sample.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bonny Doon 2008 Ca' del Solo Albariño

We'll get straight to the point--the 2008 Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Albariño, $20, is a triumph. This is a dead ringer for a Spanish Albariño. We even find it more enjoyable than the Spanish Albariños you are most likely to encounter, such as Burgans. The delicacy of Bonny Doon's version is enhanced by the wine's low alcohol, for California--it weighs in at 12.8%.

For those unfamiliar with the variety, Albariño tastes something like a muted Riesling. The flavors are of stone fruit and a hint of citrus, but those flavors, and the wine's acidity, are less intense than is typical for Riesling. It hails from the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, where it is a major grape in Galicia's Rias Baixas region, and, as Alvarinho, in Portugal, where it is a principal component of Vinhos Verdes.

We are delighted that the wine is so good. We have long been fans of Bonny Doon and its founder, Randall Grahm. His sense of humor and his eagerness to laugh at the overinflated egos of so many involved in wine have provided wonderful respite from an industry that often takes itself far too seriously. But we have not had much of their wine lately.

The Bonny Doon empire is under reconstruction at the moment. A few years back Grahm decided that the company had grown too large for him to pursue his vision. He sold off large chunks of it and is now focused on his goal of producing wines that truly express their origins. This Albariño is evidence that he is on the right track.

Bonny Doon sent us this wine along with Grahm's new book, Been Doon So Long, and a bottle of the 2005 Le Cigare Volant, Bonny Doon's flagship, Chateauneuf-du-Pape-inspired red wine. We will consume both in due time and report on our findings.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gallo Song

We found this in Rise Up Singing, edited by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson. Songwriter Peter Jones graciously allowed us to share the lyrics with you. You can hear the song performed here.

The Gallo Song

I was having dinner the other night
With the Bishop of Idaho
He served roast beef and mashed potatoes
And a bottle of Paisano

And I said Paisano* is a Gallo wine
You got to take that bottle back
And you cannot drink it until Gallo signs
You got to take that bottle back

I was walking thru this alley the other night
And these were the words I heard
“Give me all your money 'cause I got to go
Buy a bottle of Thunderbird”

I was at a concert the other night
When I felt the tap on my arm
I took the joint, but I refused
The bottle of Boone's Farm

I was lying in bed the other night
Talking with my friend named Jane
I brought out the baby oil
She brought out Andre Champagne

So when friends and family and relatives too
Take Gallo off the rack
Don't be afraid to step right up
And tell them to take it back

(last chorus) Just say “Didn't you see that's a Gallo wine?”

*Thunderbird etc.

© 1981 Steve & Peter Jones, used by permission. From "Steve and Peter Jones” (CloudsRec) and NSLT.

With the list of Gallo-owned wines here, how many more verses can you come up with?

The UFW's struggles with Gallo continue. Recently Gallo ousted the UFW from its Sonoma County operations, but the vote has just been overturned. Read more here. The article has a great list of related articles detailing recent UFW-related events.

Do you know any other good songs about Wines for the People?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Moving on up--2005 La Vieille Cure, Bordeaux

We are enjoying this wine so much we have to tell you about it--a a red Bordeaux from Chateau La Vieille Cure, Fronsac. It is a 2005, which was called the vintage of the century until 2007 came along, and now 2009 may have supplanted 2007. Never fear! Plenty more vintages of the century are sure to come.

This wine justifies the hype over the 2005 vintage. It is deeply flavored and intense, with sufficient tannin to see it through many years' aging. We have a second bottle that we intend to set aside for five years or more.

We are happy to have picked it up for $20, and recommend it without reservation at that price. However, we may have been lucky to find such a deal. Wine-Searcher shows the Chateau's second label wine as widely available at $20, but this, the Grand Vin, starts at $30 and goes up from there.

Good luck in your search!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Campo Viejo Tempranillo

Spain is hot right now. It's wines are, anyway. Best known for Tempranillo-based wines from the Rioja region, and for Sherry, Spain produces wines throughout the country. Wines from Ribera del Duero, Penedes and Priorat have been critically acclaimed, with prices to match, but bargains abound in Jumilla, Navarra, Rias Baixas, Bierzo, and... even Rioja.

We recently enjoyed a 2006 Campo Viejo Crianza from the Rioja, which we received as an unsolicited sample. The wine was closed up at first. The Mollydooker shake helped with that, as did time. On the second day the wine was very expressive. This is a tasty and typical example of the Rioja style, and it is a great value at $10 suggeted retail. We recommend decanting the wine to let it reveal all it has to offer.

The wine was sent with suggested recipes, including pumpkin empanadas, caramelized figs with Mahon cheese, and a basil-beet spread. We'll happily pass these recipes along. The wine should work well with these as well as any fall-inspired cuisine.

Tempranillo Grapes on Foodista
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Disappointment in a can

We could not be more excited about wine in cans. Putting wine in cans is great for convenience, for the environment, and for quality. We've talked about wine in cans before, but to briefly re-cap, cans come in more appropriate sizes, and are lighter and easier to carry than glass bottles. They do not require a cork screw, and there is no cork to possibly affect the wine's taste. And they are easy to smuggle into movie theaters.

Consumers tend to view new packaging types with suspicion, assuming that only inferior wine would be placed in a bag-in-box, TetraPak, or can. It is important to prove such customers wrong by having very good wine in these new packages. If a skeptical consumer musters up the courage to try a canned wine, and the product disappoints, they are unlikely to try wine in a can again.

When we learned of  Barokes' Australian wines in cans, we eagerly requested samples. We received four wines: a Chardonnay, a Shiraz, and  two sparklers. Unfortunately, we did not like any of the wines. Both whites, the Chardonnay and the blanc de blanc sparkler, tasted flat and oxidized. The Shiraz was simple and sweet, and the residual sugar in the wine grew so cloying that we were unable to finish the 250-mL can. The red sparkler, mysteriously called blanc de noirs, was particularly disappointing because we have very much enjoyed sparkling Shiraz in the past. This wine (a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot) had good bubbles and ample tannin but lacked the fruit to match.

We hope Barokes reconsiders their strategy and improves the quality of the wines in their lineup. Meanwhile, keep a lookout for Wild Pelican canned wines, and please let us know if you see or hear of any others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beverage Testing Institute Top 100 Values

The Beverage Testing Institute has issued a decree listing the top 100 values in wine. Well, we wish they had. Instead they posted a link with further links to values in each of several categories, presumably adding up to 100 wines.

We have certainly disagreed with the BTI in the past, but this is nevertheless a good resource for anyone looking for recommendations for inexpensive wines. We appreciate that they note producers that use organic grapes or practice sustainable methods.

Are you familiar with any of the wines on the BTI list(s)? Do you agree with their assessments? Your comments are welcome as always.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Northern California 2009 Vintage and Harvest

The 2009 harvest is near enough to completion that we can give a preliminary report on the quality of the wines that will hit the shelves over the next few years.

The key factor for 2009 is the big rainstorm that hit California around October 13. Until then, the growing season had been nearly perfect, and much like 2002, with no sustained spells of unseasonable weather from April through September. As in 2008, we had a few days over 100F in mid-May. This year, that interfered with the set in many varieties, principally Cabernet Sauvignon, reducing yield, but otherwise had no impact. More on yield later.

Grapes brought in before the storm--and that is close to all of them--benefited from all that great weather and will provide winemakers with the quality they need to make great wines. The storm has passed now and the ground is beginning to dry out. Mountaintop vineyards that remain unpicked may be done for this year, as they got hammered by the rain. But most vineyards are likely to recover, and mildew pressure is low despite the humidity.

Chances are good, therefore, that wines made from the later-ripening Cabernet-family of grapes will be fine despite the storm, but we will have to wait to know for sure. In the meantime, you can look forward to delicious 2009 whites and non-Cabernet reds such as Pinot noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, and so many others.

Washington State
We are big fans of the wines from eastern Washington, so we were sad to learn that the area was hit by a hard frost on October 10. As with our storm, winemakers claim (and hope!) that the grapes still on the vine will not be affected, but we find it hard to believe. It is mostly Cabernet that is still out there. Yet another reason to try Washington Syrah!

Smoke Taint
Hundreds of wildfires raged across California in summer 2008. Where fires burned near vineyards, the fruit often took up compounds that led to unpleasant flavors in the wines. These flavors, referred to generally as "smoke taint," range from a pleasant smokiness that might have come from a toasted barrel to the not unpleasant but overpowering smell of a campfire, to the downright nasty smell of a stale ashtray. Not every wine was affected, and even wines made from different parcels of an affected vineyard could have very different levels of taint. Still, we advise readers to buy 2008 Pinot noir from Sonoma and Mendocino counties only after tasting the wines for themselves.

Image from No attribution information provided. Please contact us to add, change or remove this image and information.

Australian experience with wildfires and smoke taint indicates that vines may store the compounds for release into the grapes in the following season. That is, grapes could have smoke taint even though there were no fires nearby this year. Fortunately that did not happen. The Pinots from areas affected last year are free of smoke taint this year.

Yield and the Economy
We mentioned above that hot weather in May reduced yield in Cabernet Sauvignon. This seemed terrible at first, given that the 2008 Cabernet crop was also light (in 2008 due to late frosts). However, it may have been for the best. The economic meltdown has put many wineries out of business and made it difficult for other wineries to access cash. In what looks to be a great year for quality, many grapes are going unpicked for want of buyers. Napa Cabernet, which has averaged more than $4,500/ton for the last several years, is now offered for barely $1,000 with no takers. Very sad for the growers, and for consumers, who will face consecutive years of little Cabernet, albeit of high quality.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Palate Cleanser

As winemakers, we face a problem that you may not share: carryover effects when tasting a lot of wines. In blending trials this can be particularly acute, as the wines we try to choose among differ very slightly from one another. Tannins accumulate with each wine, making the actual tannin impact of the following wine that much harder to judge. Something to cleanse the palate that does not also affect it would be a huge boon for us.

And it might be for you, as well. This may be a bit of a stretch, but if you are planning a tasting of numerous wines, or if you want to be able to enjoy a Pinot Noir after having coconut creme pie, a good palate cleanser would be just the thing. And you might find it useful beyond wine, as well.

Winemakers do use palate cleansers, of course. Plain water is the most common. Sometimes a dilute solution of pectin is used (pectin can help sweep up tannins). Bland crackers are, alas, also common. Until recently, our favorite palate cleanser has been sparkling water. We love it, first of all, but we also believe that the carbonation helps purge tannins and other sensory-impacting compounds.

Photo by SanTásti
Recently we learned about SanTásti, a beverage formulated by winemakers to use as a palate cleanser. We requested and were graciously sent samples. We devised a fiendishly devilish series of tests for the drink, and we are now ready to report on Round 1.

We feasted on delicious homemade char siu bao (pork buns), not the most wine-friendly fare. We sipped a Barokes Chardonnay, IN A CAN! (But that's another story.) Notes will follow. We also had a Napa Cabernet.

We tried each wine to get a baseline, and we also tried the SanTásti, which tasted remarkably like sparkling water. It differs mostly in having a slightly more viscous mouthfeel. There is a tiny amount of sugar in SanTásti (a whole bottle has a mere 10 calories), but we did not detect any sweetness.

In our trial, we started with pork bun->SanTásti->Cabernet. The Cabernet tasted as it did before the meal, and was unaffected by the sweetness of the pork bun. Next we tried pork bun->SanTásti->Chardonnay, again finding the wine unaffected by the intense flavoring of the pork bun. We ended the trial with pork bun->Chardonnay (with no SanTásti in between) ->SanTásti->Cabernet->SanTásti->Chardonnay. No surprises though we did think the Cabernet tasted a little bit dilute after the SanTásti. We speculate that the viscosity had a mouth-coating effect that kept us from tasting the tannin in the wine. In other words, the SanTásti seemed to work too well.

We are intrigued by this product and we look forward to testing it further. We have every intention of using SanTásti in our professional capacities. Stay tuned for further reports and for our thoughts on the Barokes wines in cans.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cruz Andina Malbec 2006

We have just enjoyed an incredible wine.

We have been fans of Argentine Malbec since the 80s, when we enjoyed Trapiche by the caseload for less than $60 (for the whole case). Malbec is a Bordeaux variety but it is a minor blending component in Bordeaux itself and among copycats in California. Argentina has justly claimed Malbec as its own, much as Australia has with Shiraz and Chile with Carmenere (and, once upon a time, California with Zinfandel).

This particular Malbec, the Cruz Andina 2006 Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza, is unlike any other Malbec we have had. The wine commands attention with intense aromas of black fruit and judicious oak. It is rich and savory on the palate and has a long, spicy finish. We know expensive Napa Cabernet, and this wine could easily pass for one costing well north of $50. It retails for a mere $20.

Part of the mystery of this wine is explained by the fact that Alvaro Espinoza is the winemaker. Espinoza also has a hand in many of the wines from Chile we have enjoyed so much of late, such as Chono and Alto Sol. Cruz Andina is a project of Augustin Huneeus, who produces the high-QPR Veramonte wines from Chile as well as the much more expensive Quintessa, in Napa Valley.

We are very happy to see this new venture offer so much at so reasonable a price, and we look forward to future vintages.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zaca Mesa Roussanne 2006

Many years ago, in the predawn before we entered the wine industry, we visited the Santa Barbara area for the first time. A good friend and loyal reader of this blog had been invited by the Frass Canyon Winery--oops, we mean, Fess Parker--on a special trip to learn more about that winery's use of IBM for their Information Systems needs, and he was kind enough to invite us along. It was a very interesting journey to say the least.

But now is not the time for tales of Fess Parker and his attendant Charlie's Angels. On that trip we visited a few wineries, and Zaca Mesa stands out as the most memorable. We were traveling with two dogs, and Zaca Mesa, who at the time had their own dogs, Zach and Macy, warmly welcomed our own beasts. We should say coolly welcomed, since it was about a billion degrees at the time of our visit, and the winery had a lovely stream for us to enjoy. (At another, less dog-friendly winery, our dogs took shelter in the shade underneath our car, and it took all our cajoling and pleading to get them out when it was time to leave.) Kudos to Zaca Mesa.

We have not kept up with their wines, but that fond memory was sufficient for us to recommend a visit to Zaca Mesa, when friends also traveling with a dog asked for recommendations in the area. They enjoyed their visit and brought us a bottle of the 2006 Roussanne to thank us.

A lovely gesture, if completely unnecessary. But, wow, the wine is fabulous. It has the classic Roussanne elements of beeswax, citrus rind, and herbs, and it is full-bodied enough, if not very oaky, to satisfy any Chardonnay enthusiast. This is very pleasant to sip, but it is close to being a vin de meditation, by which we mean a wine so complex and interesting that it commands all attention. Not quite, but there is a great deal going on here.

The retail price is $25, putting it at the high end of what we like to recommend here. Wine-Searcher shows it widely available for a more palatable $20. If you don't know Roussanne, this will be an exciting new white wine for you. If you do, it is a very good example of what the grape is capable of.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PWR's First Pick!

We have started our own small wine company, PWR Wines. The PWR stands for the People's Wine Revolution. The purpose of this blog is not to promote PWR Wines, although we strive to produce wines that would fit right in here. That is, wines that deliver high quality at low prices.

But today was our first ever pick, and we wanted to share the news. We found an old, head-trained vineyard in St. Helena planted to a mix of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, with a little bit of Viognier. We only managed to bring in 0.37 tons, barely enough to fill a single barrel, but the fruit looked beautiful on the sorting table. Here are a few pictures of our triumph!

One of two half-full bins ready to go.

Sorting the grapes: removing leaves, etc.

The "full" bin, ready to begin fermentation.

We are now in the thick of harvest and there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We have a long list of wines and other discoveries to tell you about, and we will in good time. Hang in there, dear readers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Napa Wineries Worth a Visit

Napa is home to a number of wineries we love to visit, and visitors frequently ask us for recommendations. Of course we try to tailor our suggestions to each person's interests, but there are a few wineries we feel confident proposing to the readers of this blog.

 (photo by Aaron Logan and used under the Creative Commons 1.0 license)

Wineries such as Jericho Canyon, Seavey Vineyard, Schramsberg and Quixote all offer terrific tours/tastings, but their wine prices (and in some cases tasting fees) are too high for us to recommend them here. Okay, the Schramsberg tour is pretty amazing, so we take that back.

Since most visitors to Napa arrive from the South, we'll start with Artesa, in the Carneros region in the southern part of Napa Valley (see (here, here and here for more on Artesa). We generally like their wines but think they could be much better. Still, they are a good first stop on a Napa visit because they offer a wide variety of wines and prices are reasonable (by Napa standards). But perhaps the best reason of all is that the property and views are stunning.

The Hess Collection Winery is in the hills north of Artesa on the southern slopes of Mt. Veeder. It, too, is a beautiful property, although it lacks views. We like HCW wines, but we have not kept up with them. We love visiting the winrey, though, to see Donald Hess's art collection, displayed in a museum spanning 3 stories. This is extremely modern art, and much of it will not be to everyone's liking, but it is sure to provoke thoughtful conversation. There is a tasting fee but no charge for viewing the art.

Between Napa and Yountville you will find Elyse Winery. Elyse produces a wide range of wines, including Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Rhone-inspired blends. The wines are delicious but not cheap. Still, the rosé can be had for only $15.

The next stop working Upvalley would be Mumm Napa, on the east side of the Valley just south of Rutherford. On the spectacular porch overlooking vineyards you can enjoy the bubbles that we think offer the best value in Napa. When you need to cool off, you can pop into Mumm's art gallery to see two exhibits. One exhibit changes every couple of months, and we tend to love or love-to-hate whatever is on display. There is also a permanent collection of Ansel Adams photographs that are simply exquisite. No charge to visit the galleries.

Leaving the valley floor and heading east on Highway 128 past Lake Hennessey will take you to Neyers Vineyards. Neyers offers a wide variety of wines made by the talented Tadeo Borchardt. These are all exciting, distinctive wines that reflect their origins. Not cheap, but inexpensive for Napa, with most in the $20-$35 range (and several at $48). All are delicious, and tasting with hostess Phoebe Ullberg is a delight.

Keep heading east on Hwy 128 and you will soon be at Nichelini. This is a charming place abounding with cats and bocce courts, and the owners have great tales about how they continued to produce wine through Prohibition. They have some unusual offerings such as Sauvignon Vert, and prices are reasonable (again, for Napa). Still, we think the experience of the visit itself is the best reason to go.

Burgess Cellars lies in the hills above the Valley--spectacular views once again--near the town of Angwin. Burgess offers terrific value, at prices that are reasonable for wine this good: the excellent Cabernet retails for $36, and the Merlot and Syrah are $25. Sadly they have stopped producing their Grenache. We shall miss it. Well worth a visit.

Last on our list is Casa Nuestra, on the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga. These guys are old school and produce their wine without the modern accoutrements so common throughout Napa Valley. They produce a number of wines, and while prices have crept up of late most are still under $30. Nubian goats welcome visitors, and stepping into the tasting room is like traveling backwards in time. Good times.

Do you have a favorite that's not on this list? Please let us know. Stay tuned for lists for Sonoma and Mendocino before long. Any other requests?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Allegrini Valpolicella

A dear friend visited recently and brought some lovely wines. We enjoyed grilled pizzas on our back porch, comparing the heat of Davis summer evenings to those of Calistoga. A Ridge Three Valleys ($22) helped us through the evening. The wine worked very well, but was not particularly remarkable. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the quality of our conversation.

We might have done better with the other bottle our friend brought. We enjoyed it recently while reminiscing over the visit. The wine was Allegrini 2007 Valpolicella, which as near as we can tell retails for about $17 and is widely available for about $12. This is a wonderful wine. Beautiful and voluptuous, it is ripe without being over the top or overly alcoholic. Tannins are present but well-balanced, and the acidity is refreshing and not out of line.

In fact, our only complaint is that the wine is bottled under a synthetic stopper. We are all for alternatives to cork, but in our experience wines with synthetic closures age too rapidly, and despite notable progress they remain difficult to open, and even more difficult to re-close. This certainly did not detract from our enjoyment. However, should you decide to give this wine a try, we recommend that you not cellar it. Drink up!
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Food & Wine's cheap wine picks

Food & Wine magazine just published its list of best American wines under $20. We have not tried all of them--have you? We would love to hear your thoughts.

We are very pleased to see that Siduri and Copain made the list, for Pinot Noir and Syrah, respectively.  Both producers do a terrific job, with solid quality throughout their production. Both offer value at all price points, but most of the wines are not inexpensive. They are to be applauded for ensuring the same high quality goes into their more affordable wines.

Kudos to Food & Wine for making such interesting selections. We look forward to trying the other producers on the list.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Keuka Lake Vineyards

Our friend, Staci Nugent, paid us a visit a while back. It's a long way from Ithaca, NY to the Napa Valley, and we were very happy to see her.

Staci is the winemaker at Keuka Lake Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. She is also an up-and-coming cheesemaker. On the evidence of the gouda-style cheese she brought, she is already quite accomplished. She is in Switzerland at the time of this writing, learning from master cheesemakers.

Wine she has down. Staci very generously brought us her 2007 Goldman Reserve Dry Riesling and her 2008 Vignoles. Folks, these wines are fabulous. The Riesling is classic in every sense. Textbook mineral and stone-fruit nose, with hints of citrus. Great acid and just delicious. The wine shows what Riesling in the Finger Lakes can achieve with a talented winemaker. Well worth the $18 retail price.

The Vignoles was astonishing. The vignoles grape is a cross of American and French grape variteies. The goal with such crosses is to combine the attractive flavors of the French species with the ability to withstand the temperatures and disease pressures of the US. We cannot attest to its vineyard performance but the flavors in this wine show that the goal was achieved. Certainly Riesling-like, but with a very attractive herbal streak. The wine is labeled "gently dry," and we were concerned that it would be overly sweet. Instead, the sweetness is perfectly balanced with the acidity, and therefore barely noticeable, as in a successful trocken wine from Germany. This wine is a steal at $13.

The only bad news is that the wines have limited distribution (NY, CT, DC) and the winery can ship to only a few states (NY, CA, AK, AZ, FL, MN, DC). Good cheer to readers in those states. The rest of you should keep KLV in mind when you visit the east coast.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wine in CANS!

Yes, we love alternative packaging. The bottle was an amazing invention 400 years ago, but it's time to move on. Cork has made tremendous progress in recent years, but a corked bottle this weekend reminded us that cork's time has come and gone as well. If any of you buy the argument that cork stoppers are ecologically important, we ask why you don't demand them in all of your beverage containers. Why should wine alone bear the burden of maintaining an artificial, if rich, ecosystem? Yes, we can continue this rant with anyone interested. But on to the real point...

We have had wine in cans, and it is good. Wine in cans is hardly new, as this article from the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates. But the article hardly gives the impression that earlier canned wines were associated with quality.

The wines from Wild Pelican should turn that around. These wines are simply fabulous. Not "fabulous for wine in a can," but fabulous. And it comes in cans.

We read about the Wild Pelican wines in Mutineer magazine, and requested samples that were very generously provided by Tim Jacobi, of Gima International, the US distributor for the wines. Mr. Jacobi provided a great deal of information along with the wine, most of which is also on the Wild Pelican website.

But we get ahead of ourselves. How about the wine? Mr. Jacobi sent samples of two of the three Wild Pelican products (and we will be eagerly seeking out the third). The red is a Tempranillo from the D.O. Cariňena region of Spain. It is redolent of bing cherries and cherry pie, with hints of baking spices. Smooth and silky, this is very pleasant even if it does not scream "Tempranillo."

The white blew us away. It is a Chenin Blanc from South Africa's Western Cape. Chenin Blanc's home may be France's Loire Valley, but the South Africans have grown it for hundreds of years and made it their own. This instance is absolutely classic, and very aromatic with scents of green apple and gooseberry. There is some slight carbonation (it's not fizzy) that lifts the fruitiness, and mouth-watering acidity. This wine demands food, and would be perfect for a picnic.

The third wine, which we have yet to try, is a Grenache-Shiraz rosé from the Languedoc-Rousillon (France). We love rosé, as well as Grenache and Shiraz, so we have high hopes for this wine.

Mr. Jacobi advises that the roll-out of the product will be measured. The plan is to build a loyal following in key areas in the eastern and central US before releasing the wines in California. You readers on the eastern seaboard are lucky.

Prices will vary based on state taxes etc., but Mr. Jacobi expects individual cans to sell for $2.09-$2.49, with 3-packs and 6-packs costing slightly less per can. Note that the cans are 187-mL (1/4 of standard wine bottle), so at these prices a bottle equivalent would cost up to $10. It makes sense to have a small package given that there is no way to re-close the can once opened, though it might be nice to have some larger options available, too. The wines are well worth $10/bottle--the convenience, weight and environmental benefits are all bonus.

Okay, so the wine is good, now what about the packaging? The can weighs a mere 8 grams, compared to almost 200 grams for a glass bottle of the same volume. The wine is not exposed to light, which can be quite damaging, even through green glass bottles. Cans are allowed where glass containers are forbidden, and while Wild Pelican won't say it, the cans are easy to smuggle into places where wine might not be allowed at all. Finally, while we are not overly concerned with packaging aesthetics, this package looks and even feels good. No one, we hope, will feel sheepish bringing this wine to a party or opening it for friends.

Keep your eyes open for Wild Pelican, and let us know what you think when you find it.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Harvest 2009

Yes, folks, the 2009 harvest has begun in California. So far in Napa, it's mostly been Sauvignon Blanc and grapes for sparkling wine coming in. In general, 2009 is relatively late, probably a week or two behind normal, if normal means anything in this era of weird weather.

The Napa Valley Grape Growers Association recently filmed several winemakers and grape growers discussing the 2009 growing season and harvest. We thought you would enjoy these talks, so we present them here. The talks are more technical than anything you would hear in a tasting room, but we think the speakers are clear and you should have no trouble following. Of course, if you have any questions about the discussions or want to know more about any particular issue, ask away.

First off, Jon Ruel of Trefethen Vineyards talks about Trefethen's sustainability efforts, including creekside habitat restoration.

Next, we have Matt Taylor, from Araujo Estate, talking on the first day of their harvest about the joy--and mania--of the harvest season.

Michael Beaulac, from Pine Ridge, is up next, speaking candidly about the influence economics has on farming decisions.

Merryvale's Remi Cohen follows, talking about how she adjusted the vineyard management techniques based on the season's weather.

Thanks to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers for sharing these videos with us.

Of course, the harvest season also means that we are about to become quite busy, of course. We shall do our best to keep the posts coming. We are excited about what we have already in the works but if we go silent for a spell, please know that we are doing our best to make some great wine for you to enjoy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pedroncelli Shines

Our welcome kit at the 2009 Wine Bloggers' Conference (here and here) included all sorts of goodies, from chocolates to thumb drives, and one half-bottle of wine, a Pedroncelli 2005 Dry Creek Valley Merlot Bench Vineyards.

The conference was a few weeks ago now, but we only just opened the bottle. We honestly did not know what to expect, but we were quite pleased with what we tasted. We were still more pleased when we learned the price. The 2005 we enjoyed is no longer available, but the 2006 retails for $14 (for a full bottle). We would not have been surprised to learn that it retailed for twice as much, or even more.

Two things set this wine apart. First, it tasted like a Dry Creek Valley wine. We have long enjoyed the wines from Dry Creek, although we associate it more with Zinfandel and Rhone varieties. We are now extremely curious to try Pedroncelli's versions of those wines, but this Merlot holds it own. What comes through as Dry Creek is a sort of dustiness, and perhaps some black olive.

The second thing that sets this wine apart is the spiciness. Not long ago we did an experiment with some bland wine. We took 10-oz. apple juice jars (empty), and filled them with the bland wine and a pinch of different spices from our cabinet, from ginger powder to Chinese 5-spice. We waited a couple of months to let the spices integrate into the wine, and then tasted them. Do try this at home--it's a great way to learn how to identify spice notes in wines.

Extremely large fennel bulbs

This Merlot had pronounced notes of clove and allspice, with a touch of nutmeg and even coriander, which we found delicious. Whether or not those spices appeal to you, they were fascinating in this context. And context is everything. For example, fennel is not our favorite spice in the world, and we are not huge fans of anise liqueurs, but we love an anise note in our wines, at least on occasion.

We look forward to trying more Pedroncelli wines, and encourage you to do the same.
(Reminder: as stated at the head of this post, the reviewed wine was a free, if unsolicited, sample.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wine Brats Book Review--Part 2 (end)

Good readers that we are, we have finished The Wine Brats' Guide to Living, with Wine. (See here and here if you missed our earlier posts on the book.)

Our overall take remains the same: Bravo to the Wine Brats for their efforts to demystify wine and make it more accessible. If the book is overlong and strays a bit off-topic, it nevertheless has some strong pieces that are well worth reading. Here's what Parts 3 and 4 of the book have to offer.

Part 3 is entitled, "Gettin' Dirty with the Winemakers," and the first piece finds Gina Gallo describing her history and how she came to be a winemaker (it was more than family ties). It's a sweet and well-written entry.

Next up is Stewart Dorman's "diary" (in quotes because we are pretty sure it's not really taken from his diary) chronicling the genesis of his successful wine brand, Adrian Fog. We found the piece a bit contrived, and it contains too many winemaking canards, such as that rain dilutes wine flavors and "ripeness." Dorman may well have so believed at that stage of his career, but we hope he does not now. Nevertheless, it's a pretty interesting account of starting up a winery and all the work that is involved.

Joe Naujokas follows with a description of a huge home winemaking co-operative in Modesto, the Woof Woof Winery, which appears to still exist (they have a Yahoo group although there is little activity since 2006). The group sounds like it would be a lot of fun to belong to, and Naujokas makes the whole process of en masse home winemaking sound interesting enough that it might inspire readers to follow suit.

The last part of the book is called "The Eternal Search for Knowledge," and is in essence a reference section. We are afraid this is the weakest portion of the book. Its information was outdated soon after publication. There is a guide to wine-friendly restaurants and wine bars, for instance, few of which were likely to exist more than a year or two past publication. The section on using the Internet to find wine is now of interest only to Internet historians. Of course, these are tough criticisms to level at a book that was published ten years ago and meant for immediate consumption.

While the guide to wine books and periodicals is still mostly relevant and of some use, the list of winegrape varieties contains surprising errors. Viognier, for instance, is often blended into red Rhône wines from Côte-Rôtie, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although some 13 varieties are allowed into red Châtueaneuf wines, Viognier is not among them.

All in all this was a fun read. We wish the Wine Brats were still around to update the book, and to make more mischief while spreading the gospel of wine.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boxed Wines, once again

Wyoming hills from train window

We recently traveled by train. One of the many advantages of rail travel compared to air is that riders can bring drinks along with them. With the train selling Cavit Pinot Grigio for $13/half-bottle, bringing your own wine is the way to go.

The bottles we brought for the trip out contained good enough wine, but they were heavy and took up a lot of space. For the return trip, we decided to try wine packaged in TetraPaks. We found French Rabbit wines on offer for $6.40/500 mLs or $9.50/1 L. Naturally, we went for the larger option, grabbing a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Pinot Noir, both from France's Languedoc region.

We were a little leery of the Cabernet because of the vintage date. 2005 and 2007 were both fine years in Southern France, but we understand that the TetraPak may not offer the ideal aging environment. The age did not seem to matter, however. Both the Cabernet and the Pinot were disappointing: overly simple, and almost a little tinny.

In every other way the TetraPak packaging was a hit. If only someone could put some better wine inside!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wine Brats Book Review--Part 1

We are traveling at present, and internet access is spotty. Thank goodness for books. We have been enjoying the Wine Brats' Guide to Living, With Wine mentioned in an earlier post. Herewith our thoughts on the first half of the book.

The Wine Brats divided their book into four sections covering education, parties, winemaking, and knowledge (reference). Below, our thoughts on the first two parts of the book. Naturally, this post will be followed by a post on the latter half. Here goes:

* We love the Wine Brats. Their mission, clearly stated, is just about exactly what we have set out to do ourselves: Break down any barrier standing between anyone and their enjoyment of wine. Bravo to the Wine Brats for stepping up to the plate ten years ago with this book.

* The book is a glimpse into the early history of today's wine “elite.” Okay, they probably would not call themselves that, but most of the current generation of wine writers and educators had a chapter in this book. As Joel Quigley told us, the Wine Brats were thrilled to get bylines to talented writers such as Leslie Sbrocco, whose careers blossomed thereafter.

* Demystifying wine through writing about it is hard. As if we did not already know this ourselves! The biggest problem is the paradox—how many people intimidated by some aspect of the wine book are going to read a book (or a blog) to learn to get over it? And here's the big secret: all we and our compatriots are saying is, Don't be afraid. A good message, but a pretty short book. Heck, it's a pretty short blog post, even.

* The revolution(tm) should be inspired by ideas, not facts. Yes, it's hard to fill up a chapter, but is advice on proper serving temperature germane to a book dedicated to bringing wine to the people? We agree that too much red wine is served too warm and too much white wine too cold, but we'd much rather have people grabbing a glass of wine at any temperature than not grabbing the glass for fear that it might not be at the proper temperature, or worse, that they might not know what the proper temperature is.

* Tim Hanni, MW, might just be a genius. Hanni's chapter on pairing food and wine does what we hope the rest of the book does. It makes the reader thirsty, while telling them why all the received wisdom on food and wine pairing is bunkum (so you don't need to learn it), and gives a lot of ideas for how to pursue your own taste into happy food and wine pairing.

* Bob Blumer, aka The Surreal Gourmet, is another genius, and funny to boot! How did we miss this guy 10 years ago. We will certainly be investigating his current activities. His chapter on how to throw a dinner party should certainly help anyone doing so, whether it is their first or their thousandth party. Blumer's advice on keeping the party out of the kitchen is practical, e.g. keep wine bottles and snacks where you want the guests to be, and, well, practical, i.e., section off the kitchen with POLICE LINE tape.

* Tina Caputo's chapter on wine theme parties is brilliant, and we would happily run it verbatim on Wines for the People. We'll get on calling her agent for the reproduction rights. The parties she describes would be a great way to tackle a particular subject in depth, whether it is a particular variety or region, or a comparison of styles, while having a great time. Not every learning experience has to involve taking notes. Who said you can't have a party while broadening your wine horizons?

* Winemakers ourselves, we love S. Duda's description (p. 103): “You'll be amazed at how eccentric [winemakers] are (way more spaced-out than musicians; think inferior genetic bonding between a painter and a sugar-beet farmer).”

* Joe Naujokas has an interesting chapter about using wine in mixed drinks. Some simple substitutions, such as Pinot grigio in lieu of gin in a Martini, and other more ambitious drinks such as the Port Milkshake. Great ideas in their own right, these are still more uses for wine that might have disappointed (see earlier blog post).

* Despite these great contributions, the Party section still has a bit too much instruction. Tina Caputo's piece was great for the basic idea of a wine theme party and for her theme suggestions to get your imagination going. She did not condescend to tell you how to throw a party in the first place. We suppose that some readers might want the guidance found in chapters on delegating responsibilities for fundraisers, hosting large (100s+) events, or even conducting a blind tasting. Nevertheless the book might have been snappier and even less intimidating without these chapters.

We'll report on Parts 3 and 4 of this delightful book shortly. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wine Brats' 1999 Top Ten Wine Predictions

At WBC 09 we met Joel Quigley, one of the original Wine Brats (now defunct). Joel turned us on to the 1999 publication, The Wine Brats’ Guide to Living, with Wine, and told us we’d be amazed at how many of their top ten predictions for the future of wine had come true. Here they are, with our comments.

Top Ten Predictions for the Future of Wine (published in 1999), by Tina Caputo.

10. Wine advertisements during the Super Bowl (oops, already happened).
'Nuff said. Though we missed the advertisement(s) referred to.

9. Screw caps will make a comeback—even on wines you’d actually want to drink!
Nailed that one.

8. Genetically altered hybrid grapevines will be able to grow Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Riesling grapes all on the same plant.
Hmmmm…this is and has always been possible through simple grafting. No need to go all GMO on us. But why would anyone want to do this?

7. Prohibition-era shipping laws will finally be updated, making it possible to send a bottle of California red to your Aunt Tillie in New York without fear of being thrown into the big house.
Progress has been made, but there remains a long way to go. In fact, many of the updates have stepped backwards, making wine harder to ship. As for sending a bottle to Aunt Tillie, you still can’t do it. Wine shipments anywhere are illegal through USPS, and just you try to convince a FedEx or UPS driver to take a bottle of wine from you. California wineries can and do ship to New York, but the regulatory compliance is daunting, requiring frequent reporting to each of New York's 62 counties. This law may be changing to allow annual reporting, but you get the idea.

6. Decent wine will be available in bars.
Thank goodness, this has been true for a long time in California, at least in the bars we frequent. What’s the report from where you live?

5. Restaurants will only charge $30 for a $20 bottle of wine, rather than $60.
Still waiting.

4. Wine marketers in the United States will realize that it’s okay to translate French wine varietals into English, i.e., Sauvignon blanc = Savage White.
Ha! Love it. But, alas, no. In fact, our federal regulators would not allow this as “Sauvignon blanc” is a recognized varietal name and Savage White is not on the official list. Sigh.

3. Beer drinkers will finally realize there’s no such thing as a wine gut, and switch!
Could be… could be.

2. Future astronauts will demand hydroponic vineyards on Mars!
We’ll have to withhold judgment on this one. But we will remind viewers of Mondovino that Michael Mondavi predicted that Martian wine would be forthcoming from his descendants.

1. Wine-flavored Powerbars!
Not quite, but keep an eye out for Clif Bar Family Winery. Really. Okay, they did just drop the "Bar" from their name, but it's them all right.

Not bad at all, Tina and the Brats. We have barely cracked the book but it looks great, and we will post a review here when we have finished. Thanks, Joel!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

WBC '09

We have spent the weekend at the 2009 Wine Bloggers' Conference. We do not wish you bore you with the nitty gritty, behind the scenes workings of this blog, but we thought you would like to know what we have been up to. This conference far exceeded our hopes, let alone our expectations.

Armed with what we have learned, we hope to write stronger, more detailed and concise posts. We also may revisit some past posts to strengthen and elaborate upon them.

In the meantime, we would like to thank the organizers and sponsors of the conference, including the Open Wine Consortium, Allan Wright and Zephyr Adventures, and the Napa Valley Vintners, among many many others (see the Sponsors page for a complete list).

We had a great time sampling the dry wines of Portugal, and we were reunited with the wines of Rueda and Sherry, from whom we have been parted for far too long. Expect to see posts on all three topics soon, with any samples (none, actually, but we did get to taste) or other influences duly noted, of course.

On Saturday the Napa Vintners generously hosted a great day. Unfortunately, most of the wines we tasted are too expensive to merit attention on this blog. All the more reason to thank Stags' Leap Wine Cellars, Palmaz, Quintessa, Newton, Parry Cellars ("Hi, Sue!"), O'Brien Estate ("Hi, David!") and Domaine Chandon for their time and wines. If you, dear reader, would like to learn more about any of these wineries or their wines, please do ask.

We would also like to thank Jim Gordon for his excellent keynote address, which focused on quality writing as the basis for any decent blog. We aspire to rise to the challenge.

David Yorgensen, O'Brien Estate Winemaker

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Sparkling wine is always a pleasure to drink, but did you know it can be a pleasure to open, as well? Oh, sure, everyone loves the "Pop" as the cork is shot across the room (mind the eyes, now). Wouldn't it be more fun to open the bottle with a slash of a big knife?

In this video, devoted friend of the site Lisa Scheff demonstrates a bottle-opening technique called sabering. Get a few practice bottles and you'll be wowing your friends in no time.

By the way, Lisa describes the Chouinard bubbles seen in the video thus:
It was light and simple--just the thing to go with burgers and potato salad." The wine retails for $16.50.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Boring wine and what to do about it

Have a boring wine (see the Rosenblum Syrah in the previous post)? Don’t just sit there, do something!

What can you do? Your imagination is your only limit. If the wine seems muted and inexpressive, decanting is worth a try. Don't have a decanter? Dig through your recycling to find an empty bottle. Rinse it out and then give it a tiny rinse of the wine in question before pouring back and forth. Aeration is key, so splashing is good, and a funnel can really help.

Nothing in your recycling bin? Try the Mollydooker Shake (tm, probably). Nevermind their explanation for it, just pour out a glass worth, and recork or put the screw back on. Shake vigorously. There will be bubbles. Open to release, and repeat 2-3 times (or as long as you want). Then pour out another glass and compare it to the one you poured out at the beginning. Better?

Or you can work on your blending skills. Have an unfinished bottle lying around? See what a combination of the two wines can do. If someone gave you a bottle you just aren’t that excited about, see if you can make both wines more exciting through blending in various proportions.

You needn't limit yourself to combining wines. You could make a mulled wine with spices and fruit you have on hand. Or add brandy, sparkling water, fruit juice, lavender.... The Ancient Greeks added all sorts of stuff to their wine, which they cut heavily with water (probably salt water).

Don't glumly drink your disappointing wine; take the opportunity to play and use your imagination to come up with something delightful. Please don't forget to share your discoveries!
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